HL Deb 21 July 1970 vol 311 cc879-88

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Fiji Independence Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this Bill is of course to provide for Fiji to become an independent sovereign country. The White Paper (Cmnd. 4389) describes the proceedings and conclusions of the Constitutional Conference which ended on May 5. Here I should like to pay a most sincere tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the considerable part he played in the events leading to the Conference reaching a successful conclusion.

The intention is that Fiji should have The Queen as Head of State and have a bicameral Legislature. The Upper House will be so designed as to provide representation for special traditional interests. Fiji would become independent on October 10, precisely 96 years since the day when the British Government accepted the cession of Fiji to the British Crown at the request of the Fiji leaders of the day. It is similarly at the request of Fiji's present leaders that this Independence Bill is presented; and I emphasise that the provisions of the new Constitution which are outlined in the White Paper are also the work of the Fiji leaders and their people.

I should also like to take this opportunity to pay a sincere tribute, in which I am sure all Members of the House will join, to the people and leaders of Fiji for the fine example which they have set of inter-racial tolerance, mutual co operation and true sense of patriotism reflected in the agreements concluded at the Constitutional Conference. This, to- together with Fiji's improving economic outlook, augurs well for her future as an independent country.

In the United Nations, increasing understanding has been shown for the problems of Fiji as she approached independence. During a recent visit to New York, the Chief Minister of Fiji, Ratu Mara, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Koya, jointly addressed the Committee of 24. On that occasion the Chief Minister explained that Fiji's relationship with the United Kingdom had always proceeded by consultation and agreement. He added that Fiji had voluntarily ceded itself to the United Kingdom and had never been conquered. The Fijians had been brought up to find solutions for themselves, and their country was unique in having welcomed an immigrant population. His statement was supported warmly and strongly by Mr. Koya.

Turning now to the provisions of the Bill itself, I should point out that these are in absolutely standard form. Clauses 2 and 3 make provision on the usual lines regarding national status and citizenship. These should be read in conjunction with paragraphs 15 to 17 of the White Paper which describe the citizenship provisions that are to be embodied in the Fiji Con stitution. The effect will be that the vast majority of the citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who are living in Fiji will automatically become citizens of Fiji at independence. This includes all those born in Fiji; all those naturalised in Fiji and all those who became citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies by registration in Fiji up to May 5, 1970. With certain exceptions mentioned in Clause 3, all these categories will lose their United Kingdom citizenship when they become Fiji citizens. The only substantial group of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who will remain in Fiji after independence will be those having some special connection with this country or with one of its remaining dependencies.

With that explanation, my Lords, I ask the House to support the passage of this Bill. I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House will wish me to express their sincere good wishes to the people and Government of Fiji for the future, and their confidence that in our new relationship as independent partners within the Commonwealth existing ties of friendship and co-operation will be further strengthened. I do not wish to say any more except that I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Lothian.)

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, in the debate on the gracious Speech I took the opportunity of giving good wishes to the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, during his period as Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. An opportunity did not arise for me to express to the many officials with whom I worked for quite a number of years my deep appreciation of their work, and I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I think those years represented to me perhaps the happiest time of my life. I I should also like to express particular appreciation to the members of the Oversea Service, the Diplomatic Service and the few remaining members of the Colonial Service. I do not think that this country fully appreciates what service these people render, often in the most difficult circumstances.

My Lords, looking back on the Report of the 1965 Constitutional Conference, it is hard to believe that some five years later we should be considering an Independence Bill for Fiji. When I was asked to go to Fiji at the beginning of this year to discuss with the political leaders the possibility of Fiji becoming independent, many voices were raised saying that this was premature; that the racial difficulties and differences were such that it would be wrong, in the interests of that country, for Fiji to go to independence. My Lords, I went to Fiji; I saw the political leaders, and during those ten days I went as far as possible to see Fijians. I use the phrase in its bigger sense, covering Fijians of national stock, Indians, Hindus and Moslems, Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders—you name them, they have them. I did not feel any sense of racial tension. I found an Indian Commissioner, or a Commissioner of Indian origin, acting in a totally Fijian district, with no problems at all. It was perhaps as a consequence of that, more than as a consequence of the assurances that I received from the political leaders, that I felt that it was right that Fiji should proceed to independence.

There are problems in Fiji—clearly there will be when you have an Indian majority, a Fijian minority, the presence of Europeans and the problems of land. But I am absolutely convinced that none of these problems would be solved, or could be solved, while Fiji remained a colonial territory. I felt that the whole issue had to be put to the responsibility of the Fijian leaders. There was only one issue outstanding after my visit to Fiji, and that was the question of the composition of the Lower House and the method of election. One political Party believed in the principle of one man one vote, one value. Others, recognising the differences that existed, felt that it was too early for this and that they should proceed by what is called cross-voting. We could not reach agreement then, at the beginning of this year, but it was agreed that if there was still disagreement at the Constitutional Conference, the British Government should rule and those in Fiji would accept our ruling. It is a tremendous achievement that the Chief Minister, Mr. Ratu Mara, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Koya, and all the elected representatives present in London in May, after many hours of discussion arrived at a solution. The size and membership of the Assembly and the method of election were all their decisions. I think that the fact that the political Parties could sink their differences and arrive voluntarily at a solution is the sign of real future for Fiji. It is this spirit which will solve the problems of Fiji.

I have no doubt at all that Fiji will be a new star within the Commonwealth and will set an example to other countries within the Commonwealth which have their racial difficulties, for I have no doubt that the political leaders in Fiji will succeed in solving this problem. On behalf of the Opposition, I wish Fiji well and we look forward to her playing her full part in Commonwealth relations.

I should like to put three points to the noble Marquess. First of all, on the question of economic development, Fiji has made great progress. She has received large sums of money from the United Kingdom but these, of course, were all given to her, as a colonial territory, on a soft basis. Clearly the arrangements will need to be different now that she becomes an independent country. I hope that the noble Marquess will give us an assurance that the Government will view with generosity any request by the Government of Fiji for aid for their economic development. I hope that the noble Marquess will remember that Fiji has always played a big part in regional development, particularly in education and health. Anything we can do to help Fiji will have a "spin-off" within the Pacific territories.

There is the question of defence. I made it quite clear to the Chief Minister and to the Leader of the Opposition that in the context of our military withdrawal from South-East Asia a defence treaty was not possible. I understand that the present Government intend to change this. I wish to know whether the Government intend to have defence discussions with the Government of Fiji.

The noble Marquess will be aware of a small community for whom we have a special responsibility, the people of Rambe, colloquially known as the Banabans. These people were brought from Ocean Island in order that the phosphates on that island could be developed, and they receive the royalties from the development of phosphates free of tax. I hope that the noble Marquess will give me an assurance that it has been firmly agreed that these revenues will be available to the Banabans free of tax, and I wonder whether he could tell us anything about the manner in which these sums will be made available to the people of Rambe.

In conclusion, I would ask the House to endorse this Bill. The independence of Fiji does not in any way weaken her links with this country or with the Queen. I believe firmly that independence will strengthen the links between us, because they are freely adopted by two independent peoples. I hope that all noble Lords will join together in wishing the wonderful people of Fiji Godspeed, all good fortune and a very happy and peaceful life.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I happen to be connected with one of the banks which operate in Fiji and for that reason I found myself in the territory shortly after the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had been there. I only want to say that my impression of what was happening in Fiji coincides exactly with what the noble Lord has just told us. It seems to me to be a most remarkable performance to have got so far as they have so quickly and so smoothly. I think that the reason was that everybody concerned was determined to make a success of independence and that it should come about by their own effort, without intervention or pressures from anywhere outside. If a move like this is carried out so quickly, there are bound to be certain things not completely settled—I fancy that currency matters are some of them. In saying that, I am not saying that I expect any difficulty in solving the remaining problems, if they are approached in the same spirit as that in which our friends in Fiji approached the problems of independence, both in the islands and in London. May I join with my noble friend Lord Lothian and with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in wishing all success to the independent Fiji.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise because my name is not on the list of speakers. Like other noble Lords, I was expecting this Bill to come later in the week. I appreciate the necessity of passing this Bill immediately and therefore do not make any complaint on that score. I am rising because I want to join with other noble Lords in welcoming this Bill. Those of us who have followed the situation in Fiji would never have expected five years ago that it would now have reached a position where independence would be welcomed. There were then racial difficulties between the indigenous population and the large Indian immigration. I regard it as one of the most hopeful things in the Commonwealth that there should now be this sense of racial co-operation in Fiji, the ground of hope for these islands under independence.

The second reason why I wish to take part in this debate is to pay a sincere tribute to my noble friend Lord Shepherd. I have sometimes criticised him, but your Lordships should be aware of the extraordinarily constructive contribution which he has made to enable us to have this Bill before us, not only by his visit to Fiji, but in his chairmanship of the Constitutional Conference which was held in London. I was in touch then with the delegates to that conference. They were in a mood of disagreement; they were in the mood of saying that it must be for the British Government to make a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, very wisely in that situation, said that it was not for us to impose a Constitution, and insisted that in their discussions they should reach a solution of the problem. That solution was reached, and as one who believes so tremendously in the right of people to decide their own future I want to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the attitude which he then took, and which has had such good results. I express my hope that as a result of those discussions the difficulties which in the past existed in the Fijis may not prevent them from moving forward with racial co-operation to the fulfilment of their aims.

I want to ask just one question, and to make one suggestion. In asking us to accept this Bill, the noble Marquess emphasised Clauses 2 and 3 which refer to, Retention of citizenship of United Kingdom and Colonies by certain citizens of Fiji. I welcome those clauses. I ask the noble Marquess, who says that those citizens will remain citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, whether he can assure us that they will have all the rights which that citizenship implies, including the rights inscribed upon the passports to which they will be entitled.

The noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, have referred to the aid which has been given by this country to Fiji. Clearly, with the aid that is desired by so many countries it will be difficult for the British Government alone to contribute all that is necessary for the development of those areas. Australia is deeply involved in investment in Fiji, and is now drawing considerable sums from that area, and I want to suggest that we should seek to create the position in which aid for the development of Fiji is not made just the responsibility of this country, or indeed mainly the responsibility or this country, but that Australia and New Zealand, in the Pacific, should be involved in what should be contributed. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should approach the Commonwealth Secretariat, and through them make the proposal that Austrailia and New Zealand should be associated with us in assisting the development of this newly independent island.

Finally, my Lords. I recognise that there are problems to be solved. I hope that the Opposition will co-operate with the Government in the solution of those problems. I appreciate that there are economic and social problems, and particularly the remnants of old feudalism, in that territory, but I hope that it will be possible for the people of Fiji, by democratic methods, not only to express their full sovereignty of independence but also find a solution to those social and economic problems.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have given a welcome to this Bill, and I am sure that we should all wish to associate ourselves with the sentiments that they have so eloquently enunciated with regard to Fiji. There is a good deal of business ahead of the House this evening, and I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time unnecessarily. However, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked me two or three questions which I should perhaps try to answer. He first of all said that he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would be generous with regard to any aid requests which came from Fiji. I think I can assure him that this will be the case.

The second question the noble Lord asked referred to defence. Of course, as I think he realises, the question of defence, so far as Fiji is concerned, will not alter as a result of the passing of this Bill. I do not think I can go into the whole defence operations in the Pacific and what might happen in that regard; but so far as the independence of Fiji is concerned, the only alteration, if it is an alteration, is that we shall no longer have any residual responsibility for the external defence of the island of Fiji. I think that is what the noble Lord had in mind.

As to the other point that he raised, I can assure him quite categorically that the royalties due to the Banabans are certainly going to be paid, and that they will be free of tax. How the actual payment will be made is something that has to be worked out, and I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord any further information on that point at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked a question concerning the rights of the citizens of the Island of Fiji who will remain United Kingdom citizens. This is something which goes a good deal wider than the Bill, but I think I can say that a citizen of the United Kingdom is always to be regarded as a citizen of the United Kingdom, and there will be no difference so far as citizens who are residing in Fiji are concerned. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's question. He also paid tribute to the people of Fiji, in which I should like to join him. He then made a suggestion, which I will certainly take into account, regarding the possibility of Australia and New Zealand sharing in aid to Fiji. I should like to consider the point that he raised about the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Having said that, my Lords, I would once again thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and again associate myself with those noble Lords in their tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. It must be rather sad for the noble Lord now to see a Bill of which he is the father possibly passing into the hands of a foster-father; but I hope that, even so, he will not mind too much.


My Lords, I can only say to the noble Lord that all I am concerned about is the children, and they are all right.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.